SLIDESHOW

The Top 42-Inch HDTVs

You can fetch a great TV in this size for $1000, and for only $100 more you can get fantastic image quality. We tested seven new plasma and LCD models.

LG Electronics 42PG25 HDTV

LG's 42PG25 boasts an attractive price and impressive features. This plasma HDTV produced good-looking images, too, though it struggled a bit with fast-motion video.

On-screen displays and menus are well designed, with large, easy-to-read icons. Regrettably, though, the menu items lack descriptions, so you have to guess what 'Clear Voice' means or look it up in the manual. Another drawback: The absence of a Display button on the remote prevents you from easily checking the current channel, for example.

The 42PG25 had a harder time with motion than the 120-Hz 42-inch LCDs that we matched it against. One judge rated the 42PG25's blur on our NASCAR test as "probably [the] worst" among 42-inch sets. And everyone gave it a low score on our Jaggies test from the HD HQV Benchmark. De­­spite these image quirks, our jury rated its images Good overall.

Though not the fanciest HDTV you can buy, nor the one with the best image quality, the LG 42PG25 is an attractive set—and its low price enhances its appeal.

Vizio SV420XVT

Vizio's HDTVs often lead our reviews in price and image quality, and this model is no exception: At $1100, the SV420XVT is the least-expensive 120-Hz LCD we've seen. And it finished at the top in our performance tests, too.

I loved the image in our Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl Blu-ray test. Though the opening fade-in image of the ship was slightly grainy, I rated every other aspect of the test Superior—the highest possible rating.

On the other hand, I was disappointed by The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King DVD clip, which lacked deep blacks and displayed faces with odd skin textures. Since this test involves a standard DVD, these results may indicate a shortcoming in up­­converting standard resolution. Unfortunately, most of the inputs are arrayed face-down on the back of the TV and are difficult to reach (being a contortionist helps).And the Vizio's first-time setup wizard doesn't ask whether you'll be using the TV at home or in a store.

The SV420XVT lacks a quick menu for frequently altered settings, has no USB port or SD Card slot for photos or music, and only six buttons on the programmable remote are backlit, so in the dark you can't tell what four of those are.

Still, if you're looking for the best HDTV picture for the price, you may be inclined to overlook these issues.

Vizio VO42LF

We first reviewed the Vizio VO42LF back in July, and it's still a well-rounded package at a low price ($1100). Though it costs the same amount as the newer Vizio SV420XVT, it lags behind its cousin slightly in performance and specs.

Our judges thought that the VO42LF had a natural-looking picture. Some images looked fuzzy, however. In one instance, artifacts appeared in a test clip of moving cars. And in another clip, flesh tones looked a bit too saturated.

The VO42LF provides good audio, within the limitations of any HDTV's built-in speakers. At 50 percent volume, audio was a bit muddy, but better than the sound of most TVs.

The VO42LF's remote control looks like a candidate for an Apple Computer Minimalist Design Award. It's smallish, with few buttons and a strange, pits-in-a-grid surface. But its attempted coolness doesn't make it convenient or intuitive to use. For instance, it has no Menu button; so you have to press the Enter button (which is labeled neither 'Enter' nor 'Menu') to access the menu.

But if you focus on the bottom line, the Vizio VO42LF's low price will get you plenty without forcing you to max out your credit card.

LG Electronics 42LG60

LG's "Scarlet" 42LG60 shows lots of thought devoted to everything from the faux-leather remote control to the useful and brilliantly navigable on-screen display menu. But at $1800, the niceties come at a price.

The back of the LCD panel is red, though the color serves little purpose, because people rarely spend much time gazing at the back of their big-screen TVs. The bezel is thin on the top and sides, but about three times thicker at the bottom, where LG hides the unit's superior-sounding, down-firing speakers. As nice as it is not to see speaker grilles, the extra-large bottom bezel is distracting and unattractive, especially since everything else about the set looks stunning.

Most HDTVs' light sensors measure just the brightness of ambient light in the room. But LG's Intelligent Sensor measures not just brightness but also contrast, color, sharpness, and white balance. The feature worked well most of the time, though on one occasion it briefly garbled some images while ceaselessly trying to adjust the settings to match changed surroundings. Thankfully, individual six-color controls are easy to find in the Expert Control level of the picture menu.

Meeting the LG 42LG60's high price nets you good image quality, great menu options, and extra ports (you can play music or view photos from any USB drive). If you decide to add an LG Scarlet to your living room, you won't be disappointed.

Westinghouse TX-42F43OS

Westinghouse produces inexpensive HDTVs that offer good-quality images but omit the advanced features and sophisticated style common to top-line models. The company’s TX-42F430S ($1200) is no exception.

In our lab tests, the TX-42F43OS displayed very nice images, earning a score of Good—the same performance score as the LG 42LG60. We did notice, however, that the TX-42F430S tends to skew toward red in flesh tones.

Also noteworthy were the set's speakers, which produced good sound even when the volume was maxed out.

The remote control made navigating the menu and finding useful settings (such as image and sound adjustment) a breeze. The remote feels a cheaply made, as many remotes on low-price HDTVs do, and it sports a number of buttons that serve no discernible purpose. I did appreciate its dedicated buttons for quickly changing inputs, however.

The Westinghouse TX-42F430S performs well as an entry-level HDTV. If you aren't a stickler for style, personality, and extra features such as a functional USB port, you'll find that this low-cost 42-incher delivers the basics quite well.

LG Electronics 42LGX

Few things stand out about the LG 42LGX--except its price. At $2000, this 120-Hz HDTV costs twice as much as its stablemate, the LG 42PG25.

The notes from our performance jury offer little praise for the 42LGX's picture quality. One judge described several images as "flat" and found the visuals in chapter 12 of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl to be "very dull." Another judge complained that the same scene was "a little bit too dark to see the details." In an American Idol clip, one person's face looked more like oil paint on canvas than like human skin.

The TV looks cool when it's not in operation. Rather than going with the industry-standard basic black, LG adopted a red theme--as does another 42-inch HDTV from LG, the 42LG60 (Scarlet). The back of the TV is red, and a red circle below the screen glows when the set is switched off.

Once it's on, you'll find that using the 42LGX is easy. The first time around, its setup wizard asks whether you're using it at home or in a store, and adjusts things accordingly.

The built-in audio performs well-- in quiet scenes, anyway--with virtual surround sound that puts you in the story, but the speakers strain to handle big sound.

The 42LGX has a lot to offer, but its high price limits its appeal.

Toshiba 42XV545U

Toshiba's 42-inch, 120-Hz 42XV545U HDTV delivers solid image quality, finishing second overall in our performance tests, close behind the Vizio SV420XVT. Despite its high scores, however, I had a mixed reaction to this set.

Contrast in the Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl test was excessive, and I didn't like the yellowish cast of the faces. As for The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King sequence, though I rated it Good for brightness and contrast, its handling of dark areas, and its detail in faces and clothing were only Fair. Faces appeared a bit red, too.

This model is the only one we've tested in this category that lacks primary color adjustments--and this omission held the 42XV545U back. If you, too, find faces off-color, you won't be able to fine-tune the hues to your liking.

Nor is the 42XV545U particularly easy or versatile to use. The main on-screen menu is big and opaque, and it occupies the middle of the screen, blocking too much of the picture. The TV lacks a smaller quick menu of commonly adjusted settings like Picture Mode and Aspect Ratio.

One nice touch: Press the Mute button once, and the audio drops to a whisper; press it again, and it mutes entirely--and closed captioning comes on.

At $1600, the Toshiba 42XV545U is expensive for a 42-inch HDTV, considering that capable sets like the LG 42PG25 and the Vizio SV420XVT come in at $1200 or less. And it's hard to come up with a compelling reason to buy this model over a less expensive, more full-featured one.